Monday, June 19, 2006

Justices Muddy Waters

The Supreme Court has sent the cases of two Michigan landowners who wanted to develop wetlands on their properties but were stopped by federal regulators. The case seemed to hinge on how close a wetland needed to be to a navigable waterway to fall under the Clean Water Act.

In one of the two consolidated cases, John A. Rapanos, 69, faced up to $13 million in penalties and more than five years in prison for filling in 54 acres of land in central Michigan that the government deemed "adjacent wetlands." He planned to build a shopping center on the property, which he said was 20 miles from the nearest navigable waters. However, the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found that hydrological connections -- in this case ditches and man-made drains -- linked his property to systems that ultimately drained into navigable waters.

In the other case, June Carabell has been fighting the Corps of Engineers over her plans to build a condominium complex on nearly 16 acres of wooded land in Chesterfield Township near Detroit. In her case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the property was an adjacent wetland because only a man-made earthen berm separated it from a ditch that constituted the initial connection to a drain and a creek leading to Lake St. Clair, part of the Great Lakes drainage system.

If you would like to read the decision, you can find it here (pdf).